PITTSBURGH — Converted safety Antoine Brooks Jr. is getting the first crack at taking over the Steelers’ Nickel role vacated by the departure of Mike Hilton this offseason, and he’s done a solid job so far, intercepting Ben Roethlisberger in the team’s first practice of training camp.
But the Steelers have multiple options to fill that slot, and the other player that’s getting significant playing time at Nickel right now may come as a surprise to some.
Former New York Jets defensive back Arthur Maulet has been the other Nickel working with the top two groups of defense.
Maulet, 28, came to the Steelers for his fifth NFL season, with stops in New Orleans and Indianapolis before latching on with the Jets and carving out a role in 2020. Maulet played in 11 games last season and lined up all over the defensive secondary, with 247 snaps at slot corner, 109 at free safety, 27 as a box safety and 15 as an outside corner, per Pro Football Focus.
One of the things the Steelers like about Maulet is his experience at the NFL level, something none of the other candidates to play slot corner have.
“He’s a proven NFL dude,” Tomlin said. “He plays hard on (special) teams. He showed an aptitude in terms of playing in the slot, the blitzing, the physicality, even though we haven’t had an opportunity to do it in this setting. He’s not a rookie. He’s got a reputation, a resume, and so we’re utilizing that to make some early decisions in terms of getting exposure to him.”
That being said, Tomlin said the situation is fluid, and some of the other options for the spot, such as second-year corner James Pierre and rookie defensive back Tre Norwood, could also get a shot later in camp.
“We’ll determine it,” Tomlin said. “Right now we’re working Tre Norwood at safety. He could be a guy that could roll down and play in there some. He has in college. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Right now, we don’t want to give too many people too many things to focus on. We’re keeping them locked down and letting them work there for a couple of days. We’ll have a meeting of the minds and determine who’s going to move where for the next block of days.”
The Steelers need to develop more than one slot corner, as 2020 Dime back Cam Sutton has moved to a starting role opposite Joe Haden, but most of their practice time (and playing time in the regular season) is spent in the Nickel package, so players vying for the Dime role may work at Nickel in camp, as well.